Rivers that originate in Arizona are few, the Verde River begins its journey up in the mountains in northwest corner of Yavapai County. Once upon a time the river’s water was counted as one of the tributaries to the Colorado River. In modern times every drop remains here in the state and is relied upon for the survival of citizens, farms and industry. The Colorado River is ten to thirty times the size of the Verde, even with that the Verde in its own way is a resource to be reckoned with.
In 1970 a feisty self sufficient woman moved her third husband, eight children, two dogs, and a pair of traumatized cats to Northern Arizona’s Verde Valley. Life in Fairfax, California had become too complicated, too counter culturally perilous, there were risks trying to bend children onto a reliable course to adulthood. Haight-Ashbury was in a spiral downward, and if you wet the tip of your finger to test the wind for direction the breeze was blowing certain types out of the cities to relocate to more rural districts of America.
Casey Nelson moved lock, stock and barrel eight hundred miles east and south to settle for the rest of her life on the banks of the Verde River. There were buildable lots for sale five miles from the town of Camp Verde. In those days you took Salt Mine Road a rugged seldom graded devil of a road south five miles to Fort Lincoln. More than a century before canals had been built and the land in the estate was granted irrigation rights. Groundwater was hard as most of the aquifers in the valley, when tested results showed there was limestone traces but all in all it considered good quality and safe to drink.
Plans for a few homes were made. Back in the early 70’s building codes were near nonexistent; construction would commence with almost no interference from pesky city or county agencies, for reasons to do with money, experimentation and freedom conditions were promising, and the new homes would be up and ready in a matter of months.
Casey’s masterpiece would come later, her first two homes each provided her with hard won wisdom. The biggest of the two had a roof unsuited for the hot summers. It was poorly insulated, flat and insulating after the home was finished would prove prohibitively expensive. Still, Casey wasn’t discouraged it was the lot next to this home where her imagination ran wild with dreams.
Unlike the other properties this home site promised a near perfect setting to build along the Verde River. If measured the riverbed from the north to south bank was one-quarter mile wide. Casey’s plans set the new home on an outcropping rising a few feet higher than the banks on the rivers opposite side. In a flood the river in theory would spread out on the fields northern banks making any flooding of on the south bank unlikely.
The first test of Casey’s theory occurred in the flood of May 1993, afterwards hydrologists estimated the event to be a one in every five hundred year flood. There was another about 2005, and the last occurring last month in March of 2023. In each instance the waters came within inches of flooding the home, but based on Casey’s 50-year-old forecasts never entered her home.
If you talk to people in the Verde Valley it is common knowledge that Casey’s river home is likely closest to the Verde River than any other. Not in Clarkdale, Cottonwood or in Camp Verde has a home with better views of the Verde been built anywhere along this waterway.
In 2019 Casey passed at 95. For a half century her life was tied to being close to this river. Casey was not a boastful type, she didn’t construct the home for bragging rights, she created this river home based on her passion for living close to the natural world. The building is worn down, codes make remodeling tricky, could trigger regulators coming in to demand the home be raised higher, to avoid that problem only the lowest cost repairs may be made. Instead of removing and replacing doors and windows to comply most fixes will be done by repairing what is already there. All her family is determined to hold true to their matriarchs vision. The home is set on a river, it is an oasis, a place where time passes against the shade of cottonwoods, a sweep of irrigated green lawn, ancient mesquite trees and desperately contented sycamores. Casey left her family the world.